Bees in Trees

They are scattered around town in vacant lots or overgrown, undeveloped tracts: The characteristic white box, about three feet square and maybe somewhat taller, is spotted where there’s plenty of sage or other floral shrubs. I never know whose hives they are, but most seem to be well tended.

A couple of times over the 40-odd years I’ve lived here, we’ve seen a big swarm of bees lodged in a tree or someone’s wall — the result of a queen bee’s departure for new horizons. I keep a faded list of Golden’s beekeepers that I use to find one who will come get a swarm. It is a treat for the beekeeper to get a new hive, but also a treat for me to watch them do it (from a safe distance.)

The idea of having a beehive in my yard appeals to me, but I’ve never acted on it. (I’m also a little afraid of bees, wasps, yellow jackets, etc. from my childhood experiences in Texas). There are plenty of bees around our neighborhood, due in part I suspect, to the ancient lilacs, chokecherry and other flowering shrubs that date to the settling of the town, and the proliferation of home gardens.

There is an organization in Zambia that is taking a new approach to beekeeping. According to their webside, “The idea for Mama Buci, meaning ‘mother honey’ in the Bemba language, sprung from the ashes of a business venture in Zambia to provide a livelihood for locals by planting banana plantations. The banana project was riddled with obstacles and in the end, we lost them. The subject of commercial beekeeping arose in 2004.”

“After two years of struggling with technical problems, John came up with the specially designed treetop bar hive. To our delight, the beehives began to flourish, producing over 12kg of honey on average per hive, in a structure that, if maintained properly, could last a lifetime.”

“The bees take their pollen from a rich variety of wildflowers that change from season to season.

This is why we offer two different types of honey: The Summer Harvest has a light amber, floral taste with tantalising hints of aniseed and fennel. Its earthy flavours make it a great accompaniment to cheese or other savoury foods. The Winter Harvest has a rich, sweet, dark amber flavour with comforting hints of black treacle. It tastes scrumptious spread over toast, drizzled over yogurt or stirred into your favourite brew.”

“Currently, we (Mama Buci) build over 150 beehives a day, 5 days a week, in our local Zambian workshop. We have provided over 70,000 beehives to the local community, which will produce over 400 tonnes of raw honey in one year alone. Each new hive helps the bee population to thrive and therefore has a positive environmental impact.”

“Beekeeping has been a popular income-generating activity in Zambia for centuries. However, most of the honey produced is kept in traditional bark hives, which involves a harvesting process that strips the bark from the tree. This method, over time, sadly leads to the death of the tree. This not only has a negative impact on the environment but also to the beekeepers’ income as the bees need the trees to produce honey.”

“As a result, the beekeepers are using Top-Bar hive placed in the trees … In nature, bees typically build their hives in hollows and cavities in trees and logs. Climate permitting, they will also construct comb, which hangs down in the shape of a smooth catenary curve … Bees like to build their combs in catenary curves — that, by the way, is the shape made by a rope suspended from two points — because it allows them to adjust cell size according to their needs. With nothing more than a thin strip of starter wax on the underside of the bars for the bees to build on, they are allowed to do this where frames would prevent it. When harvesting, this comb is cut from the bar with a sharp knife, crushed and the honey squeezed out with a strainer.” 

“To witness sunlight shining through one of these combs, full of honey and amid a forested scene, is one of the most beautiful sights in nature. The ambrosial serenity of this display has led many beekeepers to strive in their beekeeping to imitate natural apiculture in their hives, living out the very sound advice that bees should be left to their own devices as much as possible. The top-bar hive is the result.”

Okay, I admit that I’ve been eyeing a tree in our neighborhood for one suitable for a top-bar hive. However, my wife insists that there is no way I’ll be climbing a ladder into the trees — “sheer madness!” I have, though, come up with a scheme where through an arrangement of ropes and pulleys …

Additional Information:

Martin Zuch, Founder, Mama Buci,

What is Top-Bar Beekeeping?, Beekeeping 101

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